By Gilly Carr
Thomas Gaudion was born in Guernsey on 17 November 1896. He served in France in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry as a private during WWI, and retired from the army on 28 February 1919. He was working as a police constable at the outbreak of the occupation, a position he had held for 15 years. He lived with his wife Amy, sons Raymond and Leslie, and daughter Margaret in the parish of St Sampson.
Gaudion, along with many of his fellow policemen, was to get involved in a case which would cause ripples for decades to come. From the earliest post-war days, these men of military age consistently argued that their actions were inspired by the BBC broadcasts of ‘Colonel Britton’, otherwise known as Douglas Ritchie. These broadcasts were transmitted on the European service to the occupied peoples of Europe but were not aimed at the Channel Islanders because of the precariousness of their situation as sitting ducks in small islands. These broadcasts gave instructions to civilians to sabotage and harass the occupiers in numerous non-military ways. For these young men denied the opportunity of fighting in the armed services, or the older men who had previously served in WWI, such broadcasts appealed greatly. Their role as policemen gave them opportunities for action denied to most other civilians, such as being out after curfew. However, their position was a double-edged sword. Policemen were also required to salute passing German officers, which they found hard to stomach.
We have four main sources of information from which to draw to learn more of Gaudion’s story. These are Gaudion’s 1965 Nazi persecution compensation testimony; Bill Bell’s interviews with the policemen later in their lives; International Tracing Service records relating to his sojourns in various German prisons; and the memoirs of his police colleague, Kingston George Bailey, from which we can learn much about the experiences of the other policemen.
Bailey described how he and fellow ringleader, police constable Frank Tuck, decided, in the first winter of the occupation, to do all they could to annoy the Germans. From March 1941 they compiled a dossier on their activities, cut telephone wires, put sand in the petrol tanks of German cars, and painted V for victory signs around the island.
By the following winter, the civilian population was suffering from food shortages while, at the same time, the Germans stockpiled food in stores throughout St Peter Port. Bailey and Tuck broke into these stores by night and took tinned food to redistribute to those in need. They brought a number of other policemen into their group such that, by February 1942, ‘the operation was … getting out of hand … practically the whole police force was now taking part and, as we were on different shifts, it was impossible to know what each man was doing.’ Civilian stores run by people trading with the Germans were possibly also entered.
On 3 March 1942, Bailey and Tuck were caught red-handed by German soldiers lying in wait for them at one of the food stores. They and most of the other police were taken to Guernsey prison and their houses were searched. The men were taken to Grange Lodge in St Peter Port, the HQ of the Secret Field Police (Geheime Feldpolizei) for questioning. They were beaten and given decreasing rations over the period of interrogation. Back in the prison they were kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to wash or change their clothes. Lack of sleep also took its toll. They were also presented with forged confessions during this period.
Sixteen of the policemen were then taken to Fort George in St Peter Port for four weeks, where they were able to recover from their beatings and receive food from family and friends so that they looked well for their trial.
On 24 April 1942 the men were tried by the Germans and, controversially, 9 of them were also tried by the local authorities in the Royal Court on 1 June 1942, on account of the civilian stores that had also been entered. This was to be a show trial. Gaudion was sentenced by the Germans to two years and 4 months hard labour for ‘serious theft in two cases and theft in one case’. After sentencing, the men were taken back to Fort George until their deportation on 13 June 1942, during which they were handcuffed to each other in pairs. They were taken first to Jersey Prison for the night, then on to a prison in Granville for a few hours, and then Caen Prison, all the while still in handcuffs.
They were in Caen from 16 June to 16 July 1942. For the first night they were put in dungeon cells in which straw mattresses, complete with wet blankets, were placed on the floor, in two inches of ‘what smelt like a cesspool’. After that they were placed in a room filled with 100 cubicles, each locked up at night, and each containing a bed. In his memoirs, Bailey wrote that ‘the cubicles and bed frames were full of bugs which were, indeed, as hungry as ourselves … The food was terrible, consisting mainly of cabbage soup, with about 3/4 of a pound of bread each day … Many of the prisoners suffered from a mild form of dysentery, probably caused by too much cabbage water.’
The next stage of their journey, also spent handcuffed in pairs during the night, took them to Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in Paris. This prison was managed by French wanders but inspected daily by the German officer in charge. The men were split up and put in a room for sixty, but the beds were full of fleas and lice, according to Bailey’s memoirs. Bailey recorded that he found the monotony ‘unbearable’; they spent each day locked in their dormitory, allowed only thirty minutes exercise a day. While the French prisoners in their dormitory were allowed food parcels from relatives, the Guernsey policemen found the prison food insufficient. Bailey recorded that a ‘black market flourished in the prison … with the help of the warders.’ Even stamps for letters and Red Cross parcels were available. Otherwise prisoners were issued them once a month. Bailey was helped in the prison by two French ladies, Marie and Suzanne Hubert, who wished to help him and his ‘English comrades’. These women brought food parcels and clothes to the men and promised to write to Bailey’s wife. They operated through one of the French warders, who was pro-British and a former policeman. Gaudion’s daughter later described an incident in this prison which illustrates the dire situation with regards to food. In her words, ‘Dad got friendly with a French officer in the same room as him. He found and killed a cat [to eat] and the Germans found the skin and they made him eat the skin. That’s the kind of things they did. Where dad was, he worked in the fields planting potatoes. And if you weren’t planting potatoes all the time that you were out there then they would set the dogs on you. He was very frightened of Alsatians, even when we came back.’ This inherited anecdote is important for telling us about the forced labour which inmates of Villeneuve had to carry out.
Thomas Gaudion, like Kingston Bailey, stayed at Villeneuve until 4 May 1943, having watched their colleagues being taken away to various unknown destinations. The two of them were the only members of their party left in Villeneuve. They were taken away in (according to Bailey) a group of 70 men, strongly guarded by many heavily armed guards. They were sent to Bernau Prison and Labour Camp by train in carriages of eight men, arriving on 19 May 1943, where Gaudion was given prisoner number 2345. The prison there, a large red stone building, contained about 2,000 people. Gaudion described it was being ‘very large, close to mountains on one side and a lake or river some distance on the other side.’
The men were interviewed individually by the prison commandant, their possessions removed, the hair removed, prison clothes issued, and taken to the attic at the top of the prison, to a ‘spotlessly clean’ room. Gaudion and Bailey were split up; they were put in work groups of approximately 50 or 60 (according to Gaudion) and Bailey was ‘in the same building [but] in a different group at work.’
Bailey recorded that after four days they were marched three miles to a large camp of thirty barrack huts, each sleeping 20 men. Gaudion stated that the men worked ‘on the ground in summer and making canals in winter. The guard in my group had a vicious dog, and besides beating up prisoners with his fists, boots and rifle butt, would set the dog on them. I suffered many of these atrocities. Being scantily clothed (pants, jacket, shirt, boots and rags for our feet, we suffered terribly with the cold when winter came. Snow was on the ground from November to April, freezing hard every night. We were taken to work in the fields in all weathers, with no extra clothing. Many times one was soaked through even before arriving on the work, but it made no difference, one had to carry on irrespective of the conditions. Clothing got soaked, and dried on one’s back, sometimes frozen stiff. Many times I have been to the prison soaked through, after work in the fields. Arrived in our room, one had to undress, and wrap up in the only blanket to try and get warm. There was no head in the rooms, the only heat was the pint of hot water with perhaps a cabbage leaf, or a few grains of corn in a bowl before going to bed. One had to get into bed immediately after drinking what was called soup, otherwise one couldn’t sleep at all with the cold. Next morning one had to be up at 6 o’clock and dressed in soaking wet clothes as there was no means of drying. In consequence of beatings, bad food and conditions, many prisoners died. I was reduced to skin and bones and got so weak that I couldn’t get up when I fell down. I had to be assisted by my prison comrades, some who I am very sorry to say collapsed later and died. Eventually I was put to work sewing buttons on garments.’
(Extract from compensation testimony of Thomas Gaudion, TNA ref. FO 950/1373)
On 6 March 1944, Gaudion was removed from Bernau after ten long, hard months. Even Bailey had been removed from the camp almost seven weeks before him, leaving Gaudion alone and without any Channel Islanders to talk to. Gaudion was sent to Württemberg Workhouse for Men in Vaihingen-Enz. Gaudion recorded that he was sent there with around 30 prisoners. He described the workhouse as an ‘old castle … near Strasbourg, where I was given the job of sorting feathers out in different sizes. I was then so weak that I couldn’t move a small sack full of feathers when I was told to get one. After a few weeks at this place I was released on July 25th 1944 [NB official records record that he was released on 23 July 1944], being the end of my sentence.’
Gaudion was taken to Biberach civilian internment camp, where he arrived on 24 July 1944, and where his wife and daughter were waiting for him. His daughter Margaret later testified that her mother had ‘harassed’ Garfield Garland, the British camp captain at Biberach, to ask the Germans if her husband could come to Biberach at the end of his sentence. Her petitioning proved fruitful. Margaret stated that the first time she saw her father again, in Biberach, ‘he was just skin and bone. Mum thought that he had come to us to die. He could hardly put one foot in front of the other.‘ The other camp inmates couldn’t do enough for him and tried to get him whatever he needed. Gaudion slowly built up his strength, but was unable to turn down any food. Margaret said that he stockpiled dishes of porridge in his locker, ‘just in case’.
Amy and Margaret Gaudion, like the wives and children of other Guernsey policemen, were deported to Biberach via Compiegne Transit and Internment Camp in February 1943. About his arrival in the camp, Gaudion wrote that ‘I was put under medical care for some weeks, my weight which was originally around 12 stone was around 6 stone. For many months I was a nervous wreck, and even now I get nightmares of my prison experiences on occasions.’ This last statement is a clear sign that Gaudion was still suffering symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder twenty years after his release from prison.
After the occupation, Gaudion was not reinstated as a policeman. He instead he became a full-time tomato grower, picking up a business he ran part-time before the occupation. He lived until the age of 83. Thomas Gaudion, like the other Guernsey policemen, never cleared his name and the judgements against him and the other policemen made by the Royal Court in Guernsey still stand to this day, long after his death.
My thanks to Margaret Godfrey, daughter of Thomas Gaudion, for her interview of 19 April 2011.
Bailey, K.G.1979 . Dachau. Guernsey: CI Marine Ltd.
Bell, W.M. 1995. I Beg to Report. Guernsey: Guernsey Press Co. Ltd.
Sanders, P. 2014. ‘Economic resistance and sabotage’, pp. 277-306 in G. Carr, P. Sanders and L. Willmot, Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation 1940-1945. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Thomas Gaudion, International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 11538677, 22878987 and 22878986.
Thomas Gaudion, records from Archives Départmentales du Val de Marne, Creteil, for Villeneve-Saint-Georges Prison, ref. 500W 3 and 500W 8.